Help When It Hurts: Police officers learn first aid just in time for volcano eruption

Disaster Response | Print

Police officers have a hard job. They’re daily called to respond to the most dangerous situations, putting themselves in harm’s way. It’s a respected profession.

Police officers in Guatemala haven’t always enjoyed that respect. The community at large distrusts them. If they had to respond to a situation with injuries, they had no idea how to help—most of them had never been trained in first aid before. Those who had were still woefully ill-equipped.

One policeman said, “People die with us standing there because we do not know what to do. It makes us feel useless.”

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

The pastor of a local Baptist church wouldn’t have it. Along with BGR partners, volunteers from U.S. churches, and the gifts of friends like you, he opened his church to first aid training for 500 local police officers.

Most of them filed into the training wearing a frown—their commanders had insisted they attend. When they arrived, four stations had been set up for them to practice real-world medical emergencies: a car wreck, a stab wound, a gunshot wound, and a fractured leg.

In small groups, they practiced staunching the blood flow from a wound using something as simple as a diaper. They used sticks and broom handles to set broken bones and stabilize them with strips of cloth. They laughed and joked as comrades were randomly picked as guinea pigs for Heimlich maneuver demonstrations. By the end of the training, they were all actively participating.

One morning, two policemen were killed in a motorcycle accident. The other officers came to the training barely more than an hour later, somber and defeated. Pastor Rene led them in a meditation on the deaths and helped them process their grief. This was a new experience for them—people rarely paused to consider their feelings. The simulations gave them a needed distraction from the pain of losing two of their own.

At the beginning of the training, each officer received a first aid kit with essentials like EMS scissors, gloves, flashlights, and bandanas.

But out in the field, there were no simulations, only life-or-death situations.

TRIAL BY FIRE

They had no idea the extent their training would be put to the test.

In June 2018, Guatemala’s Volcano Fuego erupted unexpectedly, sending rocks and boulders plummeting into nearby towns and raining hot ash onto everything. The heat was so intense that car tires melted to the asphalt where they sat. Pyroclastic flows killed hundreds of people and even buried an entire community.

Police officers, fearful and uncertain, armed only with their first aid kits, rushed into the disaster. They hadn’t even learned about burns, but nearly 70,000 people living in the area suddenly needed their help.

During the disaster, Pastor Rene’s church became a shelter. But when the eruption threatened the immediate area, police officers descended on the church to make sure everyone was evacuated to safety. Once relocated, officers would come to the shelter for food and rest alongside villagers and other aid workers. They shared a table and a meal with the same people who scorned them. All were welcome.

When the worst had passed, two policemen returned to the church to tell Pastor Rene how the first aid training had made a difference during the eruption.

“It was truly awful,” they said. “However, we knew how to respond. Your church has really helped us.”

NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON

Time and again, God uses your gifts to make trainings like this one possible at the most crucial moments. How many more people would have suffered in the eruption if police officers hadn’t known first aid?

But more than that, you empowered a group of people with the skills to help their community. In equal measures, you helped restore some of the community’s faith in their police force.

No one predicted the volcano would erupt. But because you gave, they were ready. Donate again to help first responders in the next major disaster.

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